The Associated Press has an article on the wire about “leading religious scholars” discussing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And in other news, the American Physical Society has decided to pay me to write about YouTube videos!
No, not really, but that’s about how silly this looks. I mean, you can get money for standing in front of a room o’ greybeards and showing them this picture?
The story itself is surprisingly sympathetic to the rationalist cause:
In the great tradition of satire, its humor was in fact a clever and effective argument.
Between the lines, the point of the letter was this: There’s no more scientific basis for intelligent design than there is for the idea an omniscient creature made of pasta created the universe. If intelligent design supporters could demand equal time in a science class, why not anyone else? The only reasonable solution is to put nothing into sciences classes but the best available science.
“I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence,” [Bobby] Henderson sarcastically concluded.
The story doesn’t jump the rails until it starts talking about what the theologians have to say:
Indeed, the tale of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its followers cuts to the heart of the one of the thorniest questions in religious studies: What defines a religion? Does it require a genuine theological belief? Or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signaling their cultural alliances to others?
Apparently, the learned scholars in the sacred halls of Academia, their brows wreathed in ivy, haven’t yet decided whether or not Star Trek fandom is a religion. Perhaps one day, soon, they’ll inform us whether the xkcd readership constitutes a cult.
OK, perhaps the story is oversimplifying. We’ve seen that happen enough times. But there’s more:
Lucas Johnston, the third Florida student, argues the Flying Spaghetti Monsterism exhibits at least some of the traits of a traditional religion — including, perhaps, that deep human need to feel like there’s something bigger than oneself out there.
One might make more progress as an intellectual if one spent at least a little effort trying to move beyond a myopic view of human nature. There’s another deeply human attribute which is far more relevant to understanding why people put FSM decals on their cars: a sense of humor.
He recognized the point when his neighbor, a militant atheist who sports a pro-Darwin bumper sticker on her car, tried recently to start her car on a dying battery.
As she turned the key, she murmured under her breath: “Come on Spaghetti Monster!”
By Apollo, ’tis most ignobly done to clep the godless “militant!”
Apparently, the atheist standard for militancy is lower than that for any religion you could name: to be a militant Muslim radical, I’d have to blow myself to bloody smithereens, but I get to be a militant atheist as soon as I buy a bumper sticker. Can I be a “militant gambler” if I hang a pair of fuzzy dice from my rear-view mirror? By this standard, every church that announces the upcoming Sunday sermon on the light-up board outside is a hotbed of militant Christianity.
Oh, and news flash: I can swear by a whole pantheon of deities in which I do not believe, and my exclamations do not reflect any vague spirituality, any desire to be part of something bigger than myself. Instead, they reflect that jump-starting a car can be a bitch and a half, and it’s better to laugh, even bitterly, than to get overly stressed about the situation.
In a trivial sense, I suppose, swearing by Poseidon’s beard or the two faces of Janus “connects” me with the community of other people who do the same thing, which I guess is something bigger than I am — but that’s a community spirit, not a cosmic one. Suppose that one night over dinner I exclaim, “taH pagh taHbe’.” This would “connect” me with the set of people geeky enough to have read Shakespeare in the original Klingon, but it’s not an appeal to divinity.
(Tip o’ the Militant Hat-Wearer’s Hat to Stacey the Skepchick.)
UPDATE (9 December): Welcome, Carnival of the Godless readers. If you’re starving for input, à la Johnny Five in Short Circuit, check out the “Reader Favorites” I have in the sidebar (randomly drawn from this list). There’s even a bit of fiction lying about, if that’s your speed.